Season 8, Episode 6 “The Caretaker”
With tonight’s “Kill The Moon” promising to have an event that changes the relationship between the Doctor and Clara forever, a look back at last week’s “The Caretaker” seems in order, especially since it primes the pump quite a bit for major changes in our Time Lord/Companion dynamic.
There’s a lot of humor to be found here, and that’s only to be expected from Gareth Roberts, the writer of “Closing Time” and “The Lodger”. Courtney and her parents, Clara’s challenge of living two separate lives, the Doctor’s “job”… all of these and more make quite a few moments of this episode laugh-out-loud funny, serving as a stark contrast to the darker and more emotional moments of Roberts and Moffat’s script. Of course it’s those darker moments where we see a Doctor who is unkind and a touch cruel that everyone has been talking about, and the confrontation between Danny Pink and the Doctor.
And here’s where I changed my mind about how I was going to write this.
If you listen to Mr. Hunt and I do our H2O podcasts, you’ve probably noticed that we digress a lot. A lot a lot. We’re friends as well as colleagues, and while we go into each podcast with a subject in mind, we often find a tangent to veer off on, so much so that it’s kind of become a trademark of the show. This is sort of a digression, but it does connect with the portrayal of the Doctor in his 12th incarnation and his feelings on soldiers, I promise. The rabbit hole I’m about to take you down is about the New Series/Original Series, “new” fans and us older types. Yeah, it’s going to be one of those digressions.
I’ve written before, and Jason and I have talked on the podcasts about New and Classic fans, and let me make one thing perfectly clear: This old fan is quite happy that there is a whole new generation of fans that came on board in 2005 when Davies brought the show back. It many ways it was a both a hard and a soft reset: New actor, new TARDIS interior, a break from continuity caused by the Time War; all in all, the kind of return of a long cancelled series that had something for fans of the Original Series, but was accessible to the folks, especially here in the States, who had never seen the show at all, or in bits and pieces on PBS in the 80’s. Over time, in drips and drabs and acknowledged by both Davies and Moffat, pieces of the original run have crept in, reestablishing continuity and, with the “… of the Doctor” Trilogy, a concerted effort to tie the Original Series and the New Series together in a way that could have killed the show in its first season of the revival.
That’s been great, because for the older fans, the stories that they grew up with or watched with their parents or kids or friends are why the show came back in the first place, and for the newer fans, the rather sizable history of the show is available to them through DVDs and books, sure, but if they’re just watching the show, they weren’t buried under 25+ years of continuity to catch up on right away.
On the other hand, it has meant a pretty big change in how the Doctor has been cast and portrayed. In the Original Series, the Doctor was more like Peter Capaldi’s version of the character than David Tennant’s or Matt Smith’s. Sure, there were moments – some amazing moments – where the much younger actors playing the Doctor showed the weight of his years, but in the Original Series, a lot of that was helped by having older actors play the part. The first four actors to play the part were in their 40’s-50’s, and it was a big deal when Peter Davidson was cast at the age of 29. One wonders if they would have cast such a “young” actor if he hadn’t had such success with All Creatures Great and Small, but with Colin Baker, the “older” actors returned, and it was actors in their 40’s until the show went off the air.
The character was less human then, too. Hartnell’s First Doctor was angry and selfish and sarcastic, and Troughton’s Second Doctor was a manipulator masquerading as a clown. Pertwee’s Third Doctor was a man of action with a disturbingly high personal body count, and Tom Baker’s Fourth was something so far from “human” as to be what a huge chunk of the fans think of when they think of the Doctor. He was alien. Distant, arrogant, compassionate and funny, yet detached from those around him in a way that made it perfectly clear: I am not one of you. Davison’s younger Doctor made the character more human, sure, but Colin Baker’s portrayal, widely and unfairly derided, would bring back that alien-ness.
And then there was Sylvester McCoy. Doctor Who was in trouble in those years, with the BBC seriously planning to kill the show for a lot of different reasons. One of the plans the creative team had to reinvigorate the show came to be called “The Cartmel Masterplan”, which would see the Doctor become much more mysterious, and while most of what was filmed ended up on the cutting room floor, what didn’t was a Doctor who was manipulative and sometimes cruel, who used the people around him, especially his companion Ace, as chess pieces against his enemies. In the book lines that were about all one could get of Doctor Who in the Wilderness Years, the alien nature of the Doctor, especially the Seventh, was let run free, and even the Past Doctor Adventures played up the fact that the Time Lord didn’t think like we do, act like we do, or even love like we do.
So, aside from the history lesson, what’s my point?
Since the show came back in 2005, there has been a… sameness to the Doctor. “What?!” you may be saying, “Eccleston is nothing like Tennant/Smith, Smith is nothing like Eccleston/Tennant, Tennant is, oh god I miss David Tennant/Matt Smith/Chris Eccleston… sob.”
But it’s true. Want a telling example? Watch the 50th Anniversary and Tennant and Smith’s Doctors and tell me that half their lines couldn’t be switched without anyone really noticing. And don’t think I don’t see the differences, because of course I do, but since the show came back we’ve had a flirty, dashing, handsome Doctor, who has been as much romantic hero as anything else.
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is a return to the Alien in a way that we really haven’t seen since the show came back, even taking into account some wonderful moments, especially from Tennant and Smith. Overall, his performance has been hugely successful with fans, but of course, there have been the usual grumbles from the Internet posters, whose voices are not as loud as they seem to be. But that’s where you can hear the Moffat-hate, the Clara-hate, and the latest brouhaha, the “Doctor Who Writers Hate The Military” nonsense.
It would be easy, and we’re a little guilty of it here, I know, to treat this as an Old Who/New Who debate, because there are elements of it. Older fans remember the darker Doctor and his clashes with the military mindset, so the 12th Doctor’s attitude towards soldiers is not that out of line, but newer fans don’t necessarily have that reference point. The show is for Old and New fans alike, of course, and just saying “Oh, the New fans just don’t get it, grumble, grumble, get off my lawn” simply isn’t fair to the huge number of fans who are helping make Doctor Who a worldwide success.
It is asking a lot though, what the current production team is doing. They’ve made a concerted effort to bring back a lot of the Original Series this season, and with that, some of the less pleasant aspects of the Doctor’s personality. This is a good thing, because it keeps the character fresh in a way that few shows can as Doctor Who can recast its lead every few years and get away with it. And a lot of the big changes are clearly story-driven, especially the whole “Doctor doesn’t like Soldiers” thing. As I’ve written before, the Doctor knows what soldiers can be at their worst, because he has been one and, it could be argued, he still is. With Danny Pink though, there are some wrinkles.
And yes, digression over. Actual episode discussion.
So Danny is an ex-soldier, like the Doctor, who teaches Maths, like the Doctor’s old friend the Brigadier, and who has a romantic relationship with Clara, like… erm… well, the Doctor and some of his companions. Why the conflict? Why does the Doctor treat Danny so horribly?
Is it because of the class thing, as Danny says, pointing out the inherent superiority implications of “Time Lord”? (Some commenters have suggested the Race aspect, but that doesn’t hold up, as there’s a species difference, not a race difference, and despite the Moffat-hate crowd, there isn’t any evidence for that on the show at all.) Is it the fact that Danny is a competitor for Clara’s time and affections? The soldier thing?
All of them. Yes, the Doctor is, and has always been, the aristocracy. He does think he’s smarter and better than most of the people around him, no matter the species, and he knows that is a fault. He’s aware that he’s arrogant and egotistical and selfish, and tries to be better than that, because when he lets his curiosity and sense of wonder run free, the Universe is a magical place. He has said more than once, in pretty much every season since the show came back, that he hates himself, and part of that is that he knows that he’s not inherently a nice person. He’s trying though.
And yes, Danny is competition. Rory was part of the TARDIS crew, but look at Mickey… whom2 the Doctor treated horribly. There was, of course, the romantic subtext there with Rose, and we don’t have that here, but Clara has someone who is vying for her time, and the Doctor doesn’t share all that well. It’s another fault, and he knows it, but jealousy IS a factor. Just look at how the Doctor reacts when he thinks that Clara is involved with a teacher who looks a lot like his previous Incarnation… yes, he’s not her boyfriend, but oh, isn’t it nice that hers looks just like one of his faces? When it’s revealed that Danny is Clara’s boyfriend, it’s not what the Doctor wants, but for more than just ego reasons, because do any of us really believe that the Doctor didn’t see Danny and recognize Colonel Pink in him? I’ve seen some suggestions that the Doctor is face-blind and there is some evidence for that, but that seems highly unlikely in this case, considering the circumstances. The time-traveling Doctor is not going to be blind to the recurring faces and names that are surrounding him because of his friendship with Clara.
Then, of course, there is the soldier thing. Why the anger, why the rudeness, why the disdain? Part of it is the Doctor’s own history as a soldier, yes, but I think it really does have to do with one of the main requirements of being a soldier: Soldiers follow orders.
The Doctor is an officer. Danny has him pegged exactly when he calls him that. Yes, the Doctor is also just a grunt too, but officers send men to their deaths all the time, no matter how hard they are trying to keep them alive, because that’s part of the job, and the Doctor is always aware of the blood on his hands. Davros in “The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” spelled it out, and “A Good Man Goes to War” made it clear that the Doctor turns his Companions into weapons and soldiers in his war against evil, and that just adds to the Doctor’s self-hate, because he knows it’s true.
The Doctor gives orders. He demands obedience. He takes control of every situation around him. He is an Officer. But he surrounds himself with Companions who, time and time again, defy him and question him, making him see different ways to solve the crisis he faces, because he needs them to. He knows that without that check on him, the Time Lord Victorious is just below the surface, and that’s the part of the Doctor that is most like his people, and we all know that the Time Lords have a terrible track record with arrogance and madness. The Doctor doesn’t like soldiers because they do what they’re told, they follow orders, without question, and that is something that the Doctor actually can’t have… it makes him too dangerous, to the Universe and himself.
Whew. Lots of writing to get to that point. Let’s move on. Interesting return of the Missy storyline and introduction of an underling, played by Chris Addison (The Thicke of It), with some new questions raised about the whole Paradise/Nethersphere environment. The Skovox Blitzer was more or less a story element to drive things along so we could have the conflict between the Doctor and Danny, and I never really got a sense of threat because of that, but it was telling that it was there because of the presence of Artron Emmisions. Those would be time-travel traces, and that would be because the Doctor keeps coming back to Earth and the Coal Hill area, so this is actually all his fault. Courtney (Ellis Woods) is nowhere near as awful as the Maitland kids, which is good, and the idea of her being on the TARDIS in tonight’s “Kill The Moon” isn’t filling me with dread.
One must, of course, look at Danny and Clara’s relationship, and give praise to Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson. The growth is, overall, nicely organic, and it’s telling that the moment where the Doctor begins to seemingly accept Danny is the one where Danny risks his life to save Clara, and ignore the Doctor’s order to leave them alone. We lose a bit by only getting portions of the conversations they have about Clara’s other life and why she travels with the Doctor, but there’s enough there to give the relationship some depth and meaning. I’m surprised though, that we haven’t gotten Danny’s story yet, because here would be the place to hear it, if we’re talking organic storytelling. Obviously they’re saving it for a big reveal later, but it stands out that Danny isn’t sharing what happened to him yet, especially since it would be the explanation as to why the Doctor shouldn’t lump him in with the soldiers he disdains so much.
So tonight is “Kill the Moon” and more changes to the Doctor and Clara’s relationship, and I’ll just leave you with this last thought on Danny and the Doctor and the question of The Soldier:
Danny: “I’m the one who carries you out of the fire, he’s the one who lights it.”
War Doctor: “Great men are forged in fire. It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”